Research Article: A New Look at Trigger Point Injections

Date Published: September 29, 2012

Publisher: Hindawi Publishing Corporation

Author(s): Clara S. M. Wong, Steven H. S. Wong.


Trigger point injections are commonly practised pain interventional techniques. However, there is still lack of objective diagnostic criteria for trigger points. The mechanisms of action of trigger point injection remain obscure and its efficacy remains heterogeneous. The advent of ultrasound technology in the noninvasive real-time imaging of soft tissues sheds new light on visualization of trigger points, explaining the effect of trigger point injection by blockade of peripheral nerves, and minimizing the complications of blind injection.

Partial Text

Myofascial pain syndrome is a common, painful musculoskeletal disorder characterized by the presence of trigger points. They have been implicated in patients with headache, neck pain, low back pain, and various other musculoskeletal and systemic disorders [1–4]. The prevalence of myofascial trigger points among patients complaining of pain anywhere in the body ranged from 30% to 93% [5]. Although the most important strategy in treatment of myofascial pain syndrome is to identify the etiological lesion that causes the activation of trigger points and to treat the underlying pathology [6], trigger point injections are still commonly practised pain interventional technique for symptomatic relief.

Physician’s sense of feel and patient expressions of pain upon palpation are the most commonly used method to localize a trigger point. The most common physical finding is palpation of a hypersensitive bundle or nodule of muscle fibre of harder than normal consistency. The palpation will elicit pain over the palpated muscle and/or cause radiation of pain towards the zone of reference in addition to a twitch response [7].

Trigger points are defined as palpable, tense bands of skeletal muscle fibres. They can produce both local and referred pain when compressed.

Noninvasive measures for treatment of trigger points include spray and stretch, transcutaneous electrical stimulation, physical therapy, and massage. Invasive treatments include injections with local anaesthetics, corticosteroids, or botulinum toxin, or dry needling [13–18].

Trigger point injections are commonly performed in clinics as an outpatient procedure. Serious complications, although of rare occurrence, have been reported (e.g., pneumothorax, haematoma, intravascular injection of local anaesthetics, and intrathecal injections) [45]. Direct visualization of surrounding soft tissues and important structures can reduce the risk of such complications. Moreover, ultrasound allows real-time imaging of the spread of the injectate around the relevant structures and increases the success rate of injection.

The nonspecific diagnosis and lack of objective clinical measurements for trigger points mean that the evidence for the effectiveness of trigger point injection remains heterogenous. There is so far no strong evidence for the effectiveness of trigger point injections, and many physicians consider trigger point injections a little more than, if not equivalent to, placebo effects.




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